Park It Outside
Westerly Creek's Health Oasis
New! Westerly Creek Revisited
Health in Motion - watch our grantees tell their own story
By Rebecca Jones
Bimal Timsina dreams of the day this empty field near his home will become a soccer field.
Photography by James Chance
Bimal Timsina talks nearly nonstop with all the energy only a 6-year-old can manage. He is looking forward to the day he can come home from kindergarten and play on a swing and a slide with a ladder, just like those at school.
"And a soccer field – because we don't have a soccer field and we need to make a place for soccer," he says. "And a place for flowers. And a garden. And trees. And a place to play volleyball."
For now, Bimal's only playground is a parking lot or a dusty, weed-filled vacant field along Westerly Creek behind his family's apartment building, Mercy Housing, in east Denver.
"They do play in the parking field, but I worry they'll hit a car with their soccer ball and break the glass," says Bimal's father, Hari Timsina. "It's better to play in a grassy, open place." So most of the time, the boy stays inside, watching television.
Later this fall, that two-acre vacant field near the corner of East 13th Avenue and Xenia Street will begin to truly become a park with the features Bimal wants. The project was made possible by a community partnership that included The Trust for Public Land, Denver Parks and Recreation Department, Denver Urban Gardens and Mercy Housing. Major financial support was provided by the Colorado Health Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado and MetLife Foundation. Involved as well are many of the roughly 1,000 low-income residents who live near the lot, many of them refugee families.
Staff from Denver Parks and the Trust along with design consultants have been meeting with residents for the past two years to determine needs and how to make the best use of the space.
In the first phase of construction, an existing community garden in the lot will double in size, from 25 to 50 plots. This expansion will help shorten the long waiting list for plots in the garden, run by Denver Urban Gardens.
"We come from an agricultural country," Hari Timsina explains. "People like to have a little land to plant whatever they want." The Timsina family, who left Bhutan long ago and spent many years in a refugee camp in Nepal, arrived in Denver two years ago.
By midautumn, the garden expansion and the construction of an artificial turf soccer field, children's playground, basketball hoop and a shady community gathering space should be completed.
"I've worked in land conservation and restoration for more than 10 years, and this is the most fulfilling project I've ever worked on," says Wade Shelton, project manager for The Trust for Public Land, which is partnering with Denver Parks on the design and construction of the park. "Conservation is about people as much as it is about nature, but you rarely get to meet the people whose lives your work will impact far into the future. But with the Westerly Creek project, we met upfront with the families and children who will be using the park. It's a great thing to be a part of a project that will transform that community."
Around the country, The Trust for Public Land adds and enhances parks, trails and open space in underserved communities in hopes of providing people with a better environment in which to stay physically active.
"There are the physical health benefits, of course, but there are also mental health benefits," says Shelton. "There are benefits to living in a neighborhood where you're happy to live as opposed to feeling like you're stuck."
EDITOR'S NOTE: In late 2009, The Trust for Public Land received a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. With the grant, the Trust is partnering with Denver Urban Gardens and Denver Parks and Recreation to expand an existing community garden and construct a soccer field and playground for three low-income housing communities in east Denver.